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The Malleability of Undiscounted Utilitarianism as a Criterion of Intergenerational Justice

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  • Geir B. Asheim
  • Wolfgang Buchholz

Abstract

Undiscounted utilitarianism as a criterion of intergeneration justice has been questioned for different reasons: It has been argued (1) that any complete ordering of allocations with an infinite number of generations guaranteeing an optimal allocation must involve discounting, and (2) that undiscounted utilitarianism subjects the present generation to heavy demands and leads to outcomes that do not appeal to our ethical intuitions. In a previous work (Asheim, Buchholz & Tungodden, forthcoming in J. Env. Econ. Man.) we have shown that equal treatment of different generations is not incompatible with the existence of maximal allocations, given that one considers technologies that are productive (in a given sense). In this paper we consider the second argument. We show within three classes of technologies (linear, Ramsey and Dasgupta-Heal-Solow tech-nologies) that undiscounted utilitarianism is so malleable that any efficient and non-decreasing allocation can be the unique optimum given the utilitarian criterion, provided that the utility function is appropriately chosen. Hence, undiscounted utilitarianism allows for optimal allocations and need not lead to unequal distributions imposing a too heavy burden on the present generation.

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Paper provided by CESifo Group Munich in its series CESifo Working Paper Series with number 392.

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Date of creation: 2000
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Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_392

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Keywords: Utilitarianism; intergenerational justice;

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References

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  1. Asheim, G.B. & Buchholz, W. & Tungodden, B., 1999. "Justifying Sustainability," Papers 5/99, Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration-.
  2. Svensson, Lars-Gunnar, 1980. "Equity among Generations," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 48(5), pages 1251-56, July.
  3. R. M. Solow, 1973. "Intergenerational Equity and Exhaustable Resources," Working papers 103, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  4. Kreps, David M. & Porteus, Evan L., 1979. "Temporal von neumann-morgenstern and induced preferences," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 20(1), pages 81-109, February.
  5. John C. Harsanyi, 1953. "Cardinal Utility in Welfare Economics and in the Theory of Risk-taking," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 61, pages 434.
  6. Atkinson, Anthony B., 1970. "On the measurement of inequality," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 2(3), pages 244-263, September.
  7. Marc Fleurbaey & Philippe Michel, 1999. "Quelques réflexions sur la croissance optimale," Revue économique, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 0(4), pages 715-732.
  8. Cass, David, 1990. "Indefinitely sustained consumption despite exhaustible natural resources," CEPREMAP Working Papers (Couverture Orange) 9027, CEPREMAP.
  9. Tjalling C. Koopmans, 1959. "Stationary Ordinal Utility and Impatience," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 81, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  10. Heal, Geoffrey M., 1993. "The optimal use of exhaustible resources," Handbook of Natural Resource and Energy Economics, in: A. V. Kneese† & J. L. Sweeney (ed.), Handbook of Natural Resource and Energy Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 18, pages 855-880 Elsevier.
  11. Weitzman, Martin L., 1998. "Why the Far-Distant Future Should Be Discounted at Its Lowest Possible Rate," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 36(3), pages 201-208, November.
  12. Dasgupta, Swapan & Mitra, Tapan, 1983. "Intergenerational Equity and Efficient Allocation of Exhaustible Resources," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 24(1), pages 133-53, February.
  13. Frank Cowell, 1998. "Measurement of inequality," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 2084, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  14. Schelling, Thomas C, 1995. "Intergenerational discounting," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 23(4-5), pages 395-401.
  15. Mitra, Tapan, 1978. "Efficient growth with exhaustible resources in a neoclassical model," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 17(1), pages 114-129, February.
  16. Marc FLEURBAEY & Philippe MICHEL, 1994. "Optimal Growth and Transfers between Generations," Discussion Papers (REL - Recherches Economiques de Louvain) 1994031, Université catholique de Louvain, Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES).
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Stéphane Zuber & Geir B. Asheim, 2010. "Justifying Social Discounting: The Rank-Discounted Utilitarian Approach," CESifo Working Paper Series 3192, CESifo Group Munich.
  2. Wolfgang Buchholz & Cornelia Ohl & Aneta Ufert, 2012. "Ökonomische Blickwinkel auf Gerechtigkeitsfragen am Beispiel des globalen Klimaschutzes," Discussion Paper Series RECAP15 001, RECAP15, European University Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder).
  3. Mabrouk, Mohamed, 2006. "Allais-anonymity as an alternative to the discounted-sum criterion in the calculus of optimal growth I: Consensual optimality," MPRA Paper 10512, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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